The Peugeot 208 is one of those cars you know is going to sell like hot cakes, regardless of what car reviewers think of it. It has a lot of things going for it. For a start, it looks good and represents a monumental improvement over its predecessors, the 207 and 206. Styling is an important factor in this sector.
Secondly, Peugeot UK invested heavily in an innovative pre-launch social media campaign that generated in excess of 3,000 sales before anyone could actually drive one. There were a further 1,605 requests for a test drive. That's an impressive start and just goes to show how much the British public want a good small Peugeot. No pressure then?
Finally it's actually a rather good car. Yes, there are one or two issues, but overall the 208 is another sign that Peugeot is returning to form. On the evidence of my brief drives, the rumoured arrival of a 208 GTi can't come soon enough.
Peugeot chose the impressive MediaCityUK at Salford Quays as the venue for the UK launch. The media hub is the centre of a major regeneration project, tying in nicely with Peugeot's claim that the 208 represents a return to form for their 2-series, which has kind of lost its way since the demise of the 205. Yes, sales figures have been impressive, especially for the 206, but I believe that even Peugeot UK would admit that there was room for improvement. In conversation I sensed that the team at Peugeot UK were pinning their hopes on the 208 being good and probably breathed a collective sigh of relief when it turned out that it wasn't rubbish.
As you'd expect, the 208 is available in a range of different versions, with a basic 3-door Access model available for £9,995, rising up to £17,845 for the top spec Feline 5-door. At launch, Peugeot will also offer a £18,495 3-door Ice Velvet limited edition model, but the majority of sales are expected from the mid range Active spec cars.
I'm not entirely convinced that the Feline is a great name to give to a top spec model. It just feels a little too feminine and could potentially put off male buyers. Apparently Peugeot UK feels the same way.
Peugeot's engineers have worked hard to ensure that the 208 is a far neater package than the 207. In short, it's lighter and smaller than its predecessor and yet offers more room on the inside. At the press conference, Peugeot's PR team were quick to draw parallels with the 205. This is always going to be a bit of a gamble, especially given the 205's iconic status within the UK. They even went as far as showing an immaculate 205 at the launch. You sense this is down to a new found confidence in their 2-series car. Throughout the launch I got the impression that they couldn't wait to see the back of the 207. They'd never admit to it of course, but the 208 represents a kind of double whammy. Clear out the deadwood and bring in a slimmer, sleeker and more appealing replacement. No turning in its grave for the 205 this time.
Fact is, a mint condition 205 will stop you in its tracks if you see one parked on the street. The 208 will need similar kerb appeal if it's to succeed in this sector. So does it?
Well yes, I happen to think it does. Arguably it looks best as a 3-door with its sculpted lines and crease running from the base of the front wheel arch to the rear light cluster. The front of the 208 is equally successful with the ‘floating’ grille, sculpted bonnet and neat headlights presenting an aggressive looking front end. Gone has the fish-like, rather gormless looking front of the 207.
I had to chuckle at Peugeot's own description of the 208's exterior styling:
From the PEUGEOT lettering adorning the top of the grille a veritable spine crosses the bonnet, bites into the top of the windscreen, leaves its mark in the centre of the roof and imprints its movement right to the rear and the line of the boot aperture. The rear lamps incorporate a light signature with, notably, three illuminated ‘claws’ with their boomerang shape.
There would happen to be a lion on the Peugeot badge would there?!
But seriously, the 208 is a handsome beast with only the rear three-quarter angle proving to be a little awkward.
Things are less successful on the inside. To start with there's the small steering wheel which you'd think would be a good feature. And yes, against today's standards, the 208's steering wheel is almost comically small, which certainly helps to sharpen up the steering. It has been designed to increase comfort and safety by eliminating the need for the driver to take their eyes of the road. The height of the instrumental panel has been raised accordingly. It's a great idea and although it might work for some people, it didn't really work for me.
Apparently the trick is to look over the steering wheel rather than through it, but due to my height, this just resulted in an uncomfortable driving position. In order to see the instrument panel, I had to drop the steering wheel to such a height that it was against my legs. If I positioned the wheel to suit my own favoured driving position, almost the entire panel was obstructed. I did try it in the way Peugeot would hope, but I ended up with my head on the ceiling.
Other areas of concern include an ill-fitting base of the handbrake along with a plastic panel on the inside of the door. Presumably it's to house the workings of the electric door mirror, but it just looks like an afterthought, which I suspect is actually the case. On the basic Access or Active models, the cheap plastic used on the steering wheel and gear knob give the interior an overall feeling of cheapness which is a shame as there are some nice touches. The touch screen (available on Active spec and above) is clear, well positioned and looks rather good. Sadly it seemed quite difficult to use when on the move, but like anything I suspect familiarity would improve matters.
Overall the interior feels light and the seats are very supportive. I also like the clear white on black instrument panels which are typically Peugeot and very good. In truth, it's a definite step up from the 207 although for the best experience, you really ought to opt for the Allure model which adds a leather steering wheel and gear knob, sports seats and an adjustable passenger seat. But in general, the 208's interior is a disappointment.
I tested two models. First up was the 5-door 1.2 VTi 3-cylinder petrol Active priced at £12,795. Then in the afternoon I drove the 5-door 1.6 e-HDi diesel Allure at £15,845.
Of the two, it would seem easier to recommend the 1.6 e-HDi model. In Allure spec at least, the 208 felt a class above the Active model, with the interior quality dramatically improved over the Active car. The diesel engine also felt more refined, the car more balanced and as an overall package, the 208 was far more convincing. But that's not the end of the story.
The 1.6 e-HDi may be efficient, but it's devastatingly soulless. It manages to turn what could be a spritely and perky small car into a grown up and miserable hatchback. On the other hand, in keeping with other 3-cylinder engines I've tested, Peugeot's 1.2 VTi feel's more eager to rev and does so with a characterful engine note. You'll want to rev it to the redline time and time again. It's also powerful enough to keep up with other traffic, even at motorway speeds. What's more, at 975kg, the 3-cylinder 208 is 115kg lighter than its 1.6 diesel equivalent and it certainly shows. The 1.2 litre 3-cylinder 208 is the nimbler of the two and feels more eager to play on a twisty B-road. On the evidence of the cars I drove at the launch, the petrol car definitely edges the diesel in the handling stakes.
Unfortunately the ride can't quite match the handling. On the pitted B-roads of rural Cheshire, the 208 felt fidgety and at times uncomfortable. The extra weight of the diesel model improved matters a little, but the 208 is certainly happiest when it's on a smooth road or just pottering around town. Which is also true of the steering which is nicely weighted for town driving, but doesn't inspire too much confidence on a B-road. But as the majority of 208s will be used around town, this isn't too much of an issue.
The 1.2 litre 3-cylinder 208 scores very highly when it comes to economics though. On a combined cycle, Peugeot claims the car will return an average of 62.8mpg which although is 11.5mpg less that the 1.6 e-HDi, you need to remember that the car costs over £3,000 less to buy in the first place. Sadly, at 104g/km, the CO2 emissions is agonisingly just above the magic 99g/km benchmark. To achieve that figure and still drive a petrol 208, you'll need to opt for the 68bhp 1.0 litre car. Be warned though, you'll sacrifice nearly two seconds on the 0-62mph, which may just feel like an eternity.
With five petrol engines, plus a further three diesel lumps, not to mention the five trim levels, buyers won't be short of options when it comes to the 208. Peugeot expects to shift 22,000 208s this year, with a further 50,000 being sold next year. I wouldn't bet against this. I'd also expect the small petrol and diesel models to account for most of these sales, not least because 50% of new cars sold in the UK are 1.4 litre and below. With diesel prices currently high and motorists using their cars less, you can be sure that the 3-cylinder petrol cars will be very popular.
As it currently stands, I haven't seen enough from the 208 to encourage me to buy one. It feels like Peugeot has worked very hard on the 208 and although it is far from perfect, it's a damn sight closer than the 207. I like the fact that, over the 207, there's 5cm more rear legroom and yet the car is 7cm shorter. I also like the fact that it's up to 175kg lighter. Could we finally be witnessing an end to increasingly obese small cars? I hope so.
Naturally I'm also hoping that Peugeot sees sense and makes the 208 GTi concept a reality.
But in the meantime, if you're seriously looking into 208 ownership, do yourself a favour and make sure you test the little 1.2 litre 3-cylinder car first. Unless you've got your heart set on an admittedly accomplished yet ultimately dull diesel, it would be my choice, probably in Allure spec. You're not quite ready for pipe and slippers yet, surely?
You might also want to check you can find a driving position that works with the steering wheel/dashboard set-up.
Peugeot 208 Active 1.2 VTi
- Pint of milk: No GTi yet, but this is better than you'd think: 6.
- Filling station forecourt: Finally, a good looking small Peugeot: 7.
- You don't see many of those: They are going to be everywhere very soon!: 3.
- Bangernomics: As tested in Active spec - £12,795: 5.
- Petrolbloggyness: Based on good looks and the 3-cylinder engine: 6.
- Total for the 208 Active 1.2 VTi: 56/100.
Peugeot 208 Allure 1.6 e-HDi
- Pint of milk: Arguably more refined than the petrol, but it lacks soul: 4.
- Filling station forecourt: As before, this is a good looking Peugeot: 7.
- You don't see many of those: They are going to be everywhere very soon!: 3.
- Bangernomics: As tested in Allure spec - £15,845: 4.
- Petrolbloggyness: Diesel engine means it loses some appeal: 5.
- Total for the 208 Allure 1.6 e-HDi: 46/100.
Details of scoring can be seen here.